In the next several weeks, Canadian doctors will have to legal right to help patients end their lives. But, how will that affect doctors who abide by the Hippocratic oath? Dr. Ellen Wiebe, a family practitioner, has witnessed many deaths during her 40-year career. Wiebe believes patients should have a say in when and how they die, and has no qualms about catering to their wishes. She said, “I don’t consider giving someone a good death to be causing harm. That’s the main aim of helping somebody at the end of life, to help them have a good death…. If what they want is to die sooner rather than later and do it comfortably, then that’s a good death for them.”
Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice-president of the Canadian Medical Association, said he hasn’t heard one doctor who said they were going to be okay with carrying out assisted suicide, including the ones who support it. He mentioned that some of his colleagues are already stressed out over the thought of ending a patient’s life for the first time.
On February 6, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a law that prohibited providing medical aid in dying on grounds that consenting patients suffering from a irremediable medical condition have the right to end their lives. However, it’s expected no doctor is forced to participate in assisted suicide if he/she has strong convictions against it. Meanwhile, the Canadian Medical Association is educating willing doctors on how to prescribe and administer lethal medications.
Rob Jonquiere, a retired family physician in the Netherlands, said carrying out assisted suicide isn’t easy. (Assisted suicide has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002.) His first patient was a nurse who was suffering from terminal bowel cancer. He first injected her with high amounts of morphine, then a muscle relaxant under the advice of an anesthesiologist. Her death took 30 hours. He was very disturbed by this since it took her so long to die, and understands the Canadian doctors’ fears.
Blackmer knows that most of the doctors will be emotionally disturbed by the procedure, and said, “We want to make sure we’ve got physicians communicating, whether by phone, electronically or in person, to say: ‘How did you deal with the stress’ or ‘How did you deal with the strain? What are your coping mechanisms and how do you get support? We see that as a crucial component to be able to connect these doctors who are going to be the first Canadian physicians to have to deal with these types of feelings and the emotional trauma that’s going to come along with this.”